By Nick Maylor
Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of high school teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White/Heisenberg on the series Breaking Bad has been heralded as one of the finest pieces of acting this century, if not of all time.
For those of you who haven’t watch Breaking Bad, a SPOILER ALERT is now in effect.
Having died during the series finale, Walter White’s story was completed, but the show also featured the breakout character of Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul) who viewers last saw in the Breaking Bad finale, driving away from a chaotic shootout, having escaped brutal imprisonment.
Many fans were left to wonder what was left to be told of Jesse’s story and the follow-up Netflix film El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) serves to answer those questions.
While the film obviously suffers from the television show’s main character having died off, El Camino delivers a great performance from Aaron Paul, some gripping tension and satisfactory loose story threads being tied up. It also features some great cameos from the television show’s cast, including from killed off characters via flashbacks.
The movie is written and directed by Breaking Bad creator and mastermind, Vince Gilligan. It’s encouraging to have the showrunner personally handle this project when directing duties could have easily been handed off to someone else. Gilligan clearly cares deeply for this material and the world that Breaking Bad created.
We meet Jesse Pinkman exactly where we last saw him during the television show’s final episode, running free from his imprisonment at the hands of a group of sadistic neo-Nazis. Jesse had been held in captivity for weeks if not months prior to his escape. Chained up like an animal, tortured physically and psychologically; all the while being used for his expertise at cooking crystal meth.
Jesse is a morally ambiguous character to say the least. While we were introduced to him as a troubled teen dealing with mostly petty, nonviolent crimes, Jesse evolved a great deal during Breaking Bad’s five seasons. He has blood on his hands, having committed murder. What’s worse is that Jesse killed someone out of sheer desperation. The victim had not wronged Jesse and while involved in the drug trade, was essentially an innocent man caught up in a bad situation. Jesse did not sink as low as Walter White did during the show, having always tried to hold to his moral compass wherever possible. It’s easy to understand how someone coming out of his situation could have run out of things to care about. He has to be suffering from PTSD at the very least. We could expect him to just become a violent, loose cannon. However, Pinkman still holds on to what decency he can. In the film, he openly proclaims that he does not want to kill two cops. Jesse has never indulged in senseless violence just for the sake of it. This combined with Aaron Paul’s great performance (one that is brilliantly nuanced when juxtaposed with flashback scenes of a more naïve and innocent Jesse) makes El Camino a thoroughly entertaining watch, one that should satisfy die hard fans of the show. It’s satisfying because Jesse, for better or worse, is easy to root for. If there was anyone on Breaking Bad whom audiences would have want to see get some kind of happy ending, it is Jesse.
I’m very fascinated to see where Aaron Paul’s career may go henceforth. He plays this one character brilliantly and that talent is the reason for Jesse Pinkman’s longevity. One wonders what else the actor is capable of when given the right material. I’ll be keeping an eye out.
Make no mistake, if you aren’t familiar with Breaking Bad, this movie is not for you. It depends a great deal on the audience being familiar with Jesse’s history, even thought the flashback scenes provide great character development within the two-hour running time.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is currently working on a book about the American Cinema Renaissance (1967-present) with John H. Foote. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor